The Real Reason for the New York Skyline Gap – Cheddar Explains

New York City has one of the world’s iconic skylines, and that skyline has a quirk. There’s a gap with no skyscrapers here. Instead of one business district, Manhattan has two. For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that it had to do with the island’s geology, but economists have made a compelling case that it’s not about rocks, but money. In 1968, a geologist noted the correlation between building height and the depth of the bedrock. Where the bedrock was really far below the surface, there weren’t any skyscrapers. Once that correlation was pointed out, it became one of the more popular bits of trivia about the city skyline. This made an intuitive sort of sense. Skyscrapers are so heavy that they need to be anchored to the solid bedrock. Otherwise, they could sink or settle like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No one ever empirically tested the bedrock value idea until 2011. As it turns out, some of the tallest buildings were built over some deep bedrock like the Woolworth Building and the Manhattan Life Insurance Building. When you look at the skyline like an economist, you see that skyscrapers are where they are because of the flow of people and money. Developers put their skyscrapers where demand was greatest, so they could not only recoup their costs but also make a tidy profit on rental income. It’s good for the bottom line when you’re close to other businesses in your industry. You’re close to suppliers and clients. Information flows more freely. Business is conducted more efficiently. Economists call these agglomeration benefits. So, if you’re a white-collar firm, you’re going to pay a premium for space in lower Manhattan. If you’re a developer, the best way to maximize your profit on the hugely expensive land you’ve just purchased is to build up. Skyscrapers accommodate lots of tenants who are willing to pay top dollar to be near other firms. By the 1860’s, downtown was full of financial firms. But why do these firms just keep expanding north from the financial district? It’s because north of City Hall was the tenement district. So, middle and upper-class residents started moving even further north. By the 1870’s, retailers had moved in to cater to these affluent consumers, and you had a full-fledged shopping district from Union Square to Madison Square. This shopping district set off a chain reaction. Architects, real estate developers, newspaper publishers benefited from being closer to where their employers and potential customers were living. As Penn Station and the Grand Central Terminal were completed in 1910 and 1913, proximity to those transit hubs made the neighborhood even more attractive. These days, that hole in the skyline is starting to fill in. Thanks to rising land values, we’re seeing skyscrapers sprout in what used to be the tenement district like One Manhattan Square on the lower east side and 56th Leonard in Tribeca definitively putting the bedrock myth to bed. Thanks for watching. Hit the comments to talk all things skyscrapers, skylines, and urban planning. Like, subscribe, and we’ll see you next time.

100 thoughts on “The Real Reason for the New York Skyline Gap – Cheddar Explains

  1. To bad that it all doesn't just fall into a big sink hole leading straight to hell where it belongs. It certainly would make the world a better place.

  2. Their argument is back-to-front… It ignores the fact that it costs A LOT more to build skyscrapers where founding conditions are poor. So of course all of the land that is easier to build on will be used first and THEN the agglomeration benefits follow.

  3. Why is it that nobody mentioned why there was a gap in the first place. Years ago that gap called. Central Park was the called Ceneca Village where African Americans lived until 1857 the government took the village using eminent domain October 1. It became Central Park. To me that is more important than why they did not build skyscrapers on the land between the skyline.

  4. It isn't a "myth". The Leonard is on the bedrock side of Holland Tunnel. Money is something women like. Reality sucks.

  5. I live in a one story home, a couple years in a second floor apartment. I work outside, on the ground. Spent a few years working in a second floor office. I don’t understand the need for skyscrapers.

  6. I don't think it's because of the bed rock issue between downtown and midtown in NY because in Chicago they didn't have bedrock and managed to build it's skyscraper skyline on both sides of it's river.

  7. well id say its a mixture of the two
    you cant build lots of 500m+ buildings (cheaply) when the bedrock is that deep

  8. Everything between downtown and midtown is where poors lived/continue to live, it's also one of the only tolerable neighborhoods in manhattan. Now that rich people are moving in it's getting real shitty

  9. No mention of all the laws that prohibit building past a certain height around central park? Buildings too tall block the sunlight

  10. They probably built skyscrapers in those areas because humans are more apt to build them in areas/districts that have higher demand i assume.

  11. Money and currency is going to be the end for all of you this is proof of how true that is if you can’t get over currency so much is held back its better just for the race to die off

  12. No, the Empire State building was built in Midtown and at the time a ghost town. It was empty for a really long time.

  13. I'd rather think outside the Square of capitalism and campaign for a world economy based on Quality of Life for everyone, which includes clean air, clean water, clean soil, decent leisure time, and preserving wilderness. Of course, that can't be done as long as Private Greed rules the world.

  14. Because skyscrapers cost too much so it is obvious it is not good build skyscrapers across all the city.
    And now I want my PhD in economics, engineering and architecture…

  15. residential classes . and mobility also. new buildings are advanced versus the old granite frame.

  16. Why could it not simply simultaneously be for economic purposes, people simply not wanting to shell out money for the skyscrapers, the fact that there are more parks and museums in that part of the city, and, as you said before, deeper bedrock which makes it not only more difficult to build skyscrapers, but also makes them like the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

  17. I love all Cheddar videos, but it seems like this video was mastered with low volume? I had to crank my volume up… ?

  18. BTW, there is new technology for engineering very tall tall buildings on very small pieces of land that did not exist in the 1920s & 1930s, when the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings were built. What is also changing where towers are being built is the massive re-zoning of New York City that Michael Bloomberg's administration put into effect in their third term.

  19. There are no skyscrapers because a lot of land in nyc is landmarked so you’re not allowed to build skyscrapers also city planners won’t allow developers to build Willy-nilly because of the shadow the buildings might cause on the city blocking natural sunlight.

  20. it would only be called a myth if you have said that the bedrock in the middle is weak and far below but you did not say that.

  21. I'm glad it doesn't have any skyscrapers, the best neighborhoods in Manhattan lie in that gap between Midtown and Downtown. The Villages, Chelsea, SoHo/NoHo, and Tribeca are vibrant and beautiful districts of New York that wouldn't have the same charm if they were crowded with skyscrapers like the Financial and Commercial districts. I understand that demand for property in NYC is high, but I hope that they don't spoil the character of the gap by overcrowding it.

  22. You are wrong but nice choice to make video about but your wrong if you look at the old plans from the 1888s you will see the blueprint of the New York City “bedrock”

  23. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through economics sense, but the video made sense to me.

    Tenements were houses for poor people, but they were close to the financial district. Rich people moved north away from both of them. Businesses sprung up around the rich people since its profitable to do business in rich areas.

    Since it would have been high demand urban land, the price would have been sky high, so they would have built skyscrapers to make the most use of the land.

  24. Interesting, short & to the point. Wish more content was as concise rather than filling out time for no real reason.

  25. Maybe because the area between midtown and downtown Manhattan is mostly shopping and residential no major financial district's Chelsea Gramercy park garment district soho little italy Chinatown lower east and west side.

  26. जब हम रेफ्रिजरेटर का दरवाजा बंद करते हैं, तो भोजन घुटता क्यों नहीं है?

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